Tuesday, November 15, 2011

To see or not to see

The New York Times columnist David Brooks had a thought-provoking piece today about the scandal at Penn State -- one that got me thinking about pregnancy loss, infertility and involuntary childlessness. (There's almost always a connection, if you look hard enough, lol.)

Brooks notes how so many people are (re)assuring themselves and others that, had they been in the shoes of those who discovered that children were being abused on the campus, they would have taken action (at least, more decisive action than was taken).

Brooks begs to differ, pointing out that history shows the opposite generally happens: "Many people do not intervene. Very often they see but they don’t see."

He continues:



Some people simply can’t process the horror in front of them. Some people suffer from what the psychologists call Normalcy Bias. When they find themselves in some unsettling circumstance, they shut down and pretend everything is normal.

Some people suffer from Motivated Blindness; they don’t see what is not in their interest to see. Some people don’t look at the things that make them uncomfortable...

As Daniel Goleman wrote in his book “Vital Lies, Simple Truths,” “In order to avoid looking, some element of the mind must have known first what the picture contained, so that it knew what to avoid. The mind somehow grasps what is going on and rushes a protective filter into place, thus steering awareness away from what threatens.”...

People are really good at self-deception. We attend to the facts we like and suppress the ones we don’t. We inflate our own virtues and predict we will behave more nobly than we actually do.


Those of us who have lost babies, or endured infertility, or faced a future without children when we always thought we would be parents someday, know what it's like to see people turn away -- mentally, emotionally, sometimes even physically -- when they are confronted by the reality that is our life.

We all like to think of ourselves as compassionate and caring people, particularly when it comes to our friends and family members. But the inability to conceive or carry a child to term is something that falls outside the realm of most people's personal experience or comfort level. They know it happens, of course -- just not to them, or to anyone they know or love. The radical idea that, yes, it can and does happen to you & yours can be overwhelming -- threatening, even, to one's sense of personal security, fairness and "happily ever after."

Are our friends and family members evil when they turn away or remain silent in the face of our pain? Evil is a strong word, & I'm not sure I want to apply that label here.

But do they cause us undue pain and suffering -- or add to the pain & suffering we are already feeling -- through their words &/or actions (or lack thereof)?

Most certainly.

What do you think?

(See also my post about the book I read earlier this year with a similar theme, Willful Blindness by Margaret Heffernan.)

4 comments:

Mali said...

I don't think our friends and family are evil - I think there's a big gap the Penn State scandal and our situation, though I do see the analogy. I do think though that our friends and family are incapable of dealing with something they don't understand. And so they take the easy way out by not talking about it with us, learning about how we feel, by tryiing to understand. It's a bit cowardly - they'll feel awkward, so they don't say anything, or distance themselves, kidding themselves that they don't want to say the wrong thing.

And yes, undoubtedly that hurts us more than saying "I don't know what to say. Do you want to talk about it?" or "Can I help?" By not saying anything, they diminish our situation, our emotions, our lives.

Great post.

Beef Princess said...

You state the raw truth so eloquently. You hit the nail on the head. Bravo! I felt so much of my experience validated by this post. These words especially reverberated with me: "Those of us who have lost babies, or endured infertility, or faced a future without children when we always thought we would be parents someday, know what it's like to see people turn away -- mentally, emotionally, sometimes even physically -- when they are confronted by the reality that is our life...The radical idea that, yes, it can and does happen to you & yours can be overwhelming -- threatening, even, to one's sense of personal security, fairness and "happily ever after.""
BTW, I DO think that there is an element of evil in people choosing their own comfort over doing something that can make a difference. The degree of evil, of course, depends on the situation and the person.

Betty Rubble said...

While I wouldn't equate the failure to "see" and report the molestation of a child I will say that you are correct in that people tend to turn a blind eye to it. I don't believe it's because they can't equate it or that it's too painful its simply because they often don't see it as a tragedy. To be perfectly honest...since we now have our son I can't relate as easily to someone who is still in the trenches as I did when I was "one of them" So to have never been at all I believe it would be a lot harder to see the horror...

Monique said...

I like the concepts - they make sense to me. Thanks for sharing!